The world of football is your community, sometimes more so than your actual community. It unites all corners of the globe, dissolves language barriers, and lights a path of hope for so many. Your football community are there for you win or lose, with a shoulder to cry on through victory or despair. But what happens when you leave that community you hold so dear? How can you redefine yourself when the foundations of your life are uplifted and you start to walk the path unknown?
This's what audiences will soon discover about Ben (Yoran Leicher) in Sarah Winkenstette's 'Too Far Away'. His family and friends are all forced to move because a nearby brown coal mine is threatening to swallow their homes. Ben is the star striker for his football team, and he's clearly surrounded himself with close friends and a life that suits him well. However, Ben's family have decided not to follow everyone else to the new town, and instead choose a different city in which to set up their new lives.
Now everything Ben could once rely on is shaken to the core. He's bullied at school, his family seem be settling in far better than he is, and worst of all in his eyes, he's no longer the star player for his new football team. Everything starts to change when Tariq (Sobhi Awad), a young Syrian refugee, is thrown into the deep end and along with Ben, and they both have to start navigating the ropes of growing up in a new environment.
On the surface, 'Too Far Away' is about two boys who start out as football competitors, but soon realise that they both stand a better chance of survival if that competition turns to friendship. When Ben first meets Tariq, there is hope and relief he might finally have a friend to lean on once more. However, the green guernsey on Tariq's back soon seeps into a jealously that overpowers Ben, and the threat of being alone is drowning him once more.
Alas, it would be unfair to pigeonhole this film due to this surface level basis. Yes, it can be a little uncomfortable and awkward at times how Winkenstette often compares Ben and Tariq's plight. One is a refugee from a war-torn country who's lost his family, and the other has moved towns and now sits on the bench for his football team. But that's just it - this comparison works so well because Winkenstette positions it all through their eyes, not an adult's. It's a substantial shift that opens up conversations and intrigue for a younger audience that perhaps a more mature approach could not.
The footballing aspect in 'Too Far Away' is pushed aside with relative ease, and from fairly early on considering it's in all the marketing material. But this really isn't a problem at all, and if anything aids in the comparisons of Ben and Tariq by making it all a lot less awkward. Had Winkenstette focussed solely on the football, or brought this story in from an older set of eyes, then it would just be too difficult for the target audience to empathise and question exactly what Tariq is struggling through. His refugee status is a serious global issue, and I admire what Winkenstette is trying to do by moulding this around a family film.
These are really valuable lessons, made all the more watchable with a big heart and very likeable characters.
These are really valuable lessons, made all the more watchable with a big heart and very likeable characters. Ben could so easily be unsympathetic when comparing his problems with Tariq, but we feel for him, and Leicher does a really wonderful job of not overacting his plight. Likewise, Ben's family are all extremely supportive and they get a chance to shine, particularly in one scene when Tariq is invited for dinner and they make Syrian food. The kids at Ben's new school are almost embarrassingly childish in their mean-spirited ways, but even they get a chance to showcase their good intentions in the school project Ben gets assigned in class.
By Winkenstette trying to juggle a feel-good sports genre film, an insight into a refugees experiences, and Ben's personal story, 'Too Far Away' can feel a little unfocused at times. All the elements work fairly well individually, but as a whole, it lacks the fluidity to really make it score. There are very obvious beats to the story, which can be forgivable in a family film, but that still shouldn't be a given. The lack of cohesion can make this film feel a little long and laborious at times, so a younger audience may lack the patience to maintain care, but there should be enough here to hold interest in the friendly 90 minute runtime.
'Too Far Away' is a warm and sentimental film that really surprised me. I expected an underdog sports family drama, and instead I found myself watching a film about a blossoming friendship against the odds, filled with adventure, heart and smiles. Made for a younger audience but certainly able to be appreciated by all, this likeable film brings a lot more to the table than first appears.